I confess that I fall behind in reading some of the books that come my way for review. A while back, I received a book on evolution that I just didn’t know when I’d get down to reading — but it just so happened that my friend Mike is interested in the subject and was already doing some reading on it. In the interest of getting a review posted sooner rather than later, I passed along the book to get his opinion — his review follows. In addition to these comments, Mike has also recommended Michael Spencer’s review, where Michael Dowd actually joins the comment thread part way through, making for an interesting discussion.
Michael Dowd dedicates his new book, Thank God for Evolution!: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World, “to the glory of God*.” Yes, that’s God with an asterisk. The footnote called out by the asterisk reads “Not any ‘God’ we may think about, speak about, believe in, or deny, but the one true God we all know and experience.” This is your first clue that this is not the book to give to your conservative evangelical friend if your hope is to persuade him, or at least have him consider it possible, that Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and core Christian tenets are compatible. This book is more likely to convince your friend of the opposite.
Because Michael Dowd’s “God*” is definitely not the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible. The author is clearly not interested in finding common ground between science and religion, specifically evolution and traditional Christianity. The author’s intent is to marry evolution to all the great religions of the world (Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism) by imploring each tradition to embrace evolution as our common creation story, the Great Story, he calls it. His vision is for each religion to reinterpret their various scriptures and ancient texts through an evolutionary lens, so that we all eventually become Evolutionary Christians, Evolutionary Buddhists, etc. Cultures that are in conflict today would achieve unprecedented harmony. Perhaps this is Dowd’s vision of “Heaven”.
The author asserts that “God” is simply our human, language-limited way of referring to the “Ultimate Wholeness of Reality”, or the “Supreme Wholeness”, or “that Ultimate Creative Reality that brought everything, step-by-step, into existence”. He encourages the reader, stating that this view of the divine moves us away from merely believing into knowing. It’s a God that we cannot deny. Although he is careful to qualify this idea by insisting that his view of “God” does not reduce the Creator to Creation, if his theology is not pantheistic, it certainly comes across as panentheistic.
The author coins the terms “night language” and “day language” to label what he posits are two sides of the experiential coin. Day language is used to describe “what’s so”: factual information, that which is measurable and is objectively real. Night language is focused on personal or cultural meaning, that which is subjectively real. Dowd afixes the “night language” label squarely on a myriad of Christian phrases and concepts, such as as “the Kingdom of God”, “Christ-like”, “The Fall” or “Original Sin”, “Personal Salvation”, “Saving Faith”, “Heaven” and “Hell”, “Satan”, “the Second Coming of Christ”, etc.
Due to the author’s Christian background (Michael Dowd grew up Roman Catholic, earned a Master of Divinty degree from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and has pastored three United Church of Christ congregations), a hefty portion of the book is dedicated to reinterpreting various Christian doctrines through an evolutionary lens. The exercise involves taking the various Christian doctrines written in “night language” and “REALizing” them by providing the “day language” reinterpretation. The discussion is quite interesting but ultimately unsatisfying, as all the mystery of God is REALized out the window. And the literary device of capitalizing REAL in realize is immediately annoying.
This is definitely a book for those who are unafraid of questioning things, considering other ideas and perspectives, but will ultimately think for themselves. It is not for those who are scared that accepting evolution will put us on a “slippery slope”, whereby rejecting a literal interpretation of Genesis 1:1-2:3 must lead to questioning everything else written in the Bible, and that must ultimately end with the destruction of our faith in Jesus Christ as our literal, risen Saviour, the core doctrine of the Christian religion. This book will only confirm their worst fears about evolution.
Mike’s review is hardly a ringing endorsement, but hopefully it does provide an indication of who would find this book challenging and helpful. In my conversations with Mike, I gathered that people who would have difficulty with Dowd’s work would be much happier with Francis Collins’ The Language of God.